Fadjar Sidik: responding to changing times creatively, conceptually and philosophically
by Amir Sidharta
(an article from the year 2000, published in the Jakarta Post)
The works of the painter Fadjar Sidik in the 1950s, such as Portrait of Mrs. Abas Alibasjah and Portait of Wim Nirahua, are figurative compositions which depicts the nuances of the time. They are very different from the works he did since 1961 until today. Currently, his Dinamika Keruangan (“Dynamics of Space”) consists of geometric shapes that are formed in a harmonic and interesting composition of forms and colors. They do not always represent any atmosphere or life-nuances of a certain period.
It was obvious, that in 1961, there was significant change in the works of Fadjar Sidik, which is related to his experiences while he was in Bali for four years, 1957 - 1961. The painter calls it "the dichotomy between nature and technology." During the early years of his stay in Bali, he lived in Tanjung Bungkok, Denpasar, on the old road to Sanur. Not long thereafter, the main road, which was a dirt road, was up-graded, given a layer of asphalt. Later, Pertamina built an installation there.
At that time, Bali was going through several rapid changes. Electricity has caused the raising of electric-poles along the main roads. Temples, which were traditionally lit by kerosene lanterns or torches, became equipped with florescent lights. Balinese traditional houses started to change into office/shop houses.
Since he felt disturbed by the changes, Fadjar Sidik moved to Ubud. However, even before two years passed, Ubud underwent change as well. A movie theater was built in the center of the town. "Blue jeans and rock & roll music came to Ubud," he said. Those who experienced the boom of tourism, bought cars. The Barong dance, usually performed for religion rituals, became performed only when there were tourists.
Facing the changes, first Fadjar Sidik admitted that he could not stand it and felt annoyed. "I felt really annoyed, because all my favorite subjects which usually appear in my paintings, could no longer be placed in one harmonic unification its environment, then. It was difficult to compromised nature with technology," he said. It was true, the traditional Balinese markets with their thatch umbrella-rooftops were more unique and interesting to paint compared to the new markets built according to the governmental decree/instructions. Things like these those bothered the painter.
Actually, painter could have easily ignored the products of technology, and could only portray the natural and cultural elements that were not or have not been 'poluted' by the progress of the technology on his canvases. However, Fadjar Sidik refused to respond to the changes of Bali as romantically as that. He saw that the progress of technology and development could not be put aside, because it was “a necessary evil” to the era. The challenge was to harmonize the products of technology and development in harmony with the nature and traditional culture. It has to be set into his works. First, Fadjar Sidik responded with explosive expressions. He admitted to have “gotten mad” trying to find forms, rhythms and everything. It is evident in his painting, Campuhan, which no longer showed figurative forms, but has become more expressive and dynamic. The colors he used were not always related to the true colors of the nature he tries to depict, but rather are colors that express his emotions. Also, although still forming figures and shapes, his brush strokes are very spontaneous, thus more expressive. Those paintings surely were the transition from the Fadjar Sidik’s old style to his new one.
Disappointed with the progress of Bali, he returned back to Yogyakarta and accepted the offer from Abas Alibasjah, who at that time has became the division head at Akademi Seni Rupa Indonesia (The Indonesian Academy of Fine Art) to became a lecturer, which he continued until now. Before he returned back to Yogyakarta, Fadjar Sidik formulated some interpretation of Balinese ornaments and art forms, which he changed into abstraction of the more simple geometric forms. However, he refused to be called as an abstract painter. He preferred to be called designer. "A designer usually designs practical things, whereas the designs I make are meant to be emotional and aesthetic," he explained. The forms he created were not meant as a representation of natural forms. According to the painter, even if recognizable forms appeared, looking like mountains, fields or moon, it was only the viewer’s association. His works are named Dinamika Keruangan (“Dynamics of Space”) because they were focused on the negative space of the canvas, not on the positive elements that form the subject. "On every painting there is always negative space, and it is the dynamics of the negative space which is meant by the dynamics of space," he said. The negative space to which he refers, is the space between the elements within his paintings.
His “Dynamics of Space” paintings are filled with musical rhythm, because of the repetition of forms and the use of vibrant colours, which is reminiscent of the works of Paul Klee. However, the rhythm and music were in fact not his main attention. "Rhythm and composition should appear in any work, and should not be something that is applied purposefully," he said.
His titles, which in the beginning were called “Dynamics of Space”, later changed. There were such titles as "Metropole", "Mandala", and so forth. His works also went through several changes, although not drastically. His latest works are painted with diagonal brush strokes, which adds rhythm to his paintings. Yet most importantly, he still held his prime principles of the “Dynamics of Space". To solve the dichotomy between nature and technology, Fadjar Sidik did not become a romantic; on the contrary, he took the creative steps, even conceptually and philosophically. Through his works, he tried to find a solution responding to the dichotomy. If nature, culture and technology were the positive elements, then the negative space became its solution.
Even though he realized that the changes in Bali has made him change his style, more or less being affected by tourism, Fadjar Sidik kept an open mind. He even declared, "Lucky we have tourists!" According to him, tourism has helped Bali solved its dichotomy of nature, culture and technology. He said that it was certainly due to the guidance of the foreigners who lived long enough in Bali that kept Bali hold firmly its cultural and artistic values, and still able to accommodate the demands of modern life. He cited the development of hotels like the Bali Hyatt, and Kayu Aya, that he has seen in the past. He also admitted, that the influences of foreigner artists such as Walter Spies and Arie Smit helped the progress of Balinese arts but at the same time also conserved the traditional Balinese cultural values along the way.
It is clear that Fadjar Sidik is a true modernist, who holds tight to his principles until today. This is not to be questioned or put in doubt. However, there is still one question to be asked. If he had lived in Bali when the dichotomy of nature, culture and technology has been solved, what would have happened to his art? An exhibition of Fadjar Sidik’s works is on show at One Gallery, Jl. Panjang, West Jakarta, from 9 - … September 2000.